Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Paying for Justice: Prison and Probation in an Age of Austerity: Based on the 10th Annual Community Justice Portal Lecture Delivered at Sheffield Hallam University on 23rd May 2013

Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Paying for Justice: Prison and Probation in an Age of Austerity: Based on the 10th Annual Community Justice Portal Lecture Delivered at Sheffield Hallam University on 23rd May 2013

Article excerpt

Introduction

Looking at some of the current developments in penal policy, there is a sense of history repeating itself. Almost exactly twenty years ago, a hard line Secretary of State took up post, promising decent but austere prisons, while today's minister offers the prospect of Spartan but humane ones. (Mail on Sunday 2013) The 1990's saw the very existence of a probation service threatened by a minister whose big idea was replacing social work trained professionals with former military personnel. Today there is once again the existential threat to probation with the big idea appearing to be the unleashing of an army of ex-offender mentors on those leaving prison--although as with the earlier proposal there are major questions about the viability of the plan (Daily Telegraph 2013). In the 1990's, Michael Howard went on to propose the scrapping of parole and early release measures which prompted the then Chief Justice to opine that "never in the history of our criminal law have such far reaching proposals been put forward on the strength of such flimsy and dubious evidence" (House of Lords, 1996). Today we read that Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is to change Britain's 'dishonest' sentencing rules that allow inmates to walk free halfway through their jail terms (Daily Mail 2013).

Perhaps with economic woes and divisions over Europe, back to basics style criminal policies look now as they did in the 1990's attractive ways of shoring up electoral support. Whether it will be a case of history repeating itself, first as tragedy then as farce, remains to be seen.

The question of paying for justice could scarcely be more topical with the Government announcing their Transforming Rehabilitation Strategy early in May 2013, an Offender Rehabilitation bill introduced in Parliament shortly afterwards and a fierce debate raging in particular about the future shape of the probation service, the likely privatisation of large parts of its work and the mechanisms proposed for financing this activity in the future. This is to say nothing of the proposed changes to criminal legal aid, which despite the potential for far reaching consequences for defendants, for social justice and the rule of law must lie outside the scope of these present remarks. The aim of this lecture is rather to share one or two observations about what is happening to policy and practice in the areas of prisons, probation and youth justice as a result of the need to reduce public spending and the so called austerity which has resulted.

Crime itself of course appears to be confounding conventional criminological theory by continuing to fall at the same time as more and more people find themselves subject to risk factors previously thought to be associated with committing it. Experts seem unable to agree whether it is because targets are harder and less valuable, young people are drinking less, taking fewer drugs and more addicted to computer games, or due to longer term factors such as the legalisation of abortion or the removal of lead from petrol. There is also some disagreement about whether the fall is genuine or masks some massaging of the way crime is recorded. Others suggest that the fall ignores the scale of the switch to cybercrime, or is yet to reflect the impact of the economic downturn which will surely arrive at some stage.

In as much as the fall in certain kinds of crime is a real one--and few dispute this much better policing is often put forward as part of the explanation. The police are facing both cuts in resources and changes in governance. For the Inspectorate "this can be seen as an opportunity to innovate and refresh or as a reason to continue as is and see services cut back" (HMIC 2011). For some commentators 'enforced contraction' could be a positive opportunity to reappraise what the police should be doing (Millie 2013). I want to suggest that the same is true for the criminal justice system as a whole and that in straitened times we should be looking to develop a "narrower" approach to the use of prison and with it a broader approach to community justice. …

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